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Taking care of yourself during pregnancy

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For your baby's sake and yours, it's important to take especially good care of yourself during your pregnancy. Follow the basics:

  • Don't smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

Doctors generally recommend that women add about 300 calories to their daily intake to provide nourishment for the developing fetus. Although protein should supply most of these calories, your diet needs to be well-balanced, including fresh fruits, grains, and vegetables. Your health care provider will likely prescribe a prenatal vitamin to make sure you get enough folic acid, iron, and calcium.

Over-the-counter medications are generally considered off-limits because of their potential effects on the fetus. Most doctors will recommend that you don't take any OTC medications at all, but they might offer a list of those they think are safe to take. Be sure to discuss any questions about medications, including natural remedies, supplements, and vitamins, with your doctor.

When you're pregnant, it's also important to avoid food-borne illnesses, such as listeriosis and toxoplasmosis, which can be life threatening to an unborn baby and may cause birth defects or miscarriage. Foods you'll want to steer clear of include:

  • soft, unpasteurized cheeses (often advertised as "fresh") such as feta, goat, Brie, Camembert, and blue cheese
  • unpasteurized milk, juices, and apple cider
  • raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs, including mousse and tiramisu
  • raw or undercooked meats, fish, or shellfish
  • processed meats such as hot dogs and deli meats (these should be well cooked)

You should also avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. Although fish and shellfish can be an extremely healthy part of your pregnancy diet (they contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and are high in protein and low in saturated fat), these types of fish may contain high levels of mercury, which can cause damage to the developing brain of a fetus.

Pregnancy also can cause a number of uncomfortable, although not necessarily serious, side effects, including:

  • nausea and vomiting, especially early in the pregnancy
  • leg swelling
  • varicose veins in the legs and the area around the vaginal opening
  • hemorrhoids
  • heartburn and constipation
  • backache
  • fatigue
  • sleep loss

If you experience one or more of these side effects, keep in mind that you're not alone! Talk to your doctor about strategies for alleviating any discomfort.